Significant athletic accomplishments are becoming quite the norm for Anna Kimbrell.
Kimbrell, a Fort Mill native, will soon represent her country – again – at the WBSC Women’s Baseball World Cup. The game has changed quite a bit since Kimbrell first tried out for Team USA in 2006, and with Kimbrell’s fifth trip to the World Cup just ahead, the growth of the sport among women has not been lost on the 2009 Nation Ford graduate.
“The talent pool for the Women's National Team has increased tremendously. I remember the first tryout I went to in 2006. There (were) hardly enough people to field two teams,” said Kimbrell.
“I think this year at tryouts alone, we had close to 90 players. Efforts from (Major League Baseball) to make baseball a more inclusive sport have helped us in growing our talent pool, which is very exciting for all of us.”
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The Trailblazer Series, one of the efforts to which Kimbrell refers, took place for the second time this past April at Major League Baseball’s Compton Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., and featured nearly 100 girls ages 13 and under. The league also joined forces this season with USA Baseball to unveil the Breakthrough Series, a developmental and scouting event for specially-selected players 17 and younger.
Kimbrell, the first woman to play both varsity and American Legion baseball in South Carolina, hopes these opportunities help to show young women that they have multiple chances to shine on the diamond at the international level.
“I feel like for a lot of my teammates, as well as myself, playing college softball is an opportunity for a scholarship. While many, including myself, have always truly loved playing baseball, we did not get the opportunities to play baseball at the collegiate level,” Kimbrell said.
“However, USA Baseball gives many women an opportunity to represent their country and continue their playing careers after they graduate. I think that having this opportunity allows women to know that softball isn't their only way to play elite ball; there is another opportunity with baseball. I hope that having the World Cup in the United States will help open some eyes to the fact that women can play baseball and it will help open more doors for the younger generation of girls in baseball.”
The eighth Women’s Baseball World Cup marks the first time it will be played in the United States. This year’s event will be held Aug. 22-31 in Viera, Fla., at the USSSA Space Coast Complex. Kimbrell has among her teammates on the USA Baseball roster Stacy Piagno and Kelsie Whitmore, with whom she played professional baseball for the independent Sonoma Stompers in 2016. Kimbrell served as Whitmore’s catcher for two innings with the Stompers, forming the first-ever all-female battery in men’s professional baseball.
“Each of us come from very different backgrounds, but a lot of our stories are similar, in the sense that we grew up playing baseball with the boys. However, we are all super excited to play in the World Cup on our own soil and in front of our many families and friends who have never been able to travel around the world to watch us play,” Kimbrell said of her teammates.
That convenience for friends and family is also true for the players. Many of the women on the USA Baseball roster have jobs and outside responsibilities that have made the travel all the more difficult in prior World Cups. Kimbrell herself is employed by Game Day Athletic Services, a company involved with athletic field building and maintenance, while offering multiple catching lessons to young players during the week.
“It will definitely help all of us get back in to the swing of work/school life, not to mention it will be an advantage for us getting adjusted to Eastern time (a one-hour time change from Kimbrell’s residence in the Birmingham, Ala., area), as opposed to a 13-hour time difference like we had in Japan and South Korea. Sometimes it would take me two to three days to get adjusted back to the proper time zones when we would travel,” said Kimbrell.
“I really hope that having the Cup here will help us gain some momentum and crowd support from people all across the (United States). Hopefully, one day we can have the same support the women's soccer team has.”
This World Cup also holds the significance of occurring just weeks after the 46th anniversary of the passing of Title IX equal opportunity legislation. The impact of the legislation is not lost on Kimbrell.
“I am so grateful for Title IX,” said Kimbrell. “It has allowed me to play high school baseball and college softball. I would not be the same person that I am today without both of those experiences.”
Kimbrell and her teammates will begin training for the World Cup in Florida Aug. 16. Before she leaves, though, one more experience awaits.
The Charlotte Knights will honor Kimbrell on Aug. 5, as part of their Women in Baseball Day. Kimbrell spent much of her childhood attending games at the club’s old Fort Mill ballpark, before she and her brother both went on to work as part of the Knights’ grounds crew. She also helped build the BB&T Ballpark field on which she will be honored.
“I am excited to return this year, because the Knights will always have a special place in my heart, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunities I had with them as an employee,” said Kimbrell. “It is awesome that they have been so supportive of my career in baseball and [will] host this special night.”
Fans can follow Kimbrell’s progress and the entire tournament via the World Cup’s website at wbsc.org.